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Serving as a referral partner for a major brand is a great revenue driver. In an ideal situation, websites and media entities connect with brands that are looking to reach new customers, run those brands’ offers on their sites, and watch as the audience engages and ultimately converts on the offers. This, in turn, should bring in revenue as brands see the value that an audience provides.

Occasionally, content partners may find that they are suddenly sending an unprecedented number of referrals through to their brand partners. At first, this may appear to be cause for celebration. You may have found a combination of brand and offer that deeply resonates with your audience, creating many more lucrative opportunities in the future.

But it could also raise alarms on the brand partner’s side, as they may not understand why they’re suddenly seeing this influx of traffic, or if that traffic is legitimate.

Anomalies can and do happen in partnerships, and are one reason why open and honest communication is important to the process. Openness and responsiveness can help resolve questions around potential fraud and give a brand peace of mind. It can also further cement the value that a referral partner brings to its brands, aiding in negotiations that come later.

Anomalies can and do happen in partnerships, and are one reason why open and honest communication is important to the process.

Case study: An unpredictable referral surge

As an example, let’s consider a partner that is referring traffic to a new subscription streaming video service. With millions of people across the country remaining at home, this could be a bountiful union for both the streaming brand and its partners. Now, say that one referral partner is suddenly generating $500,000 in payouts per month, after marking zero referrals in the previous month.

On the surface, this looks like a clear cut case of fraud. A smart brand will look closely at the ratio of clicks to actual conversions to uncover anything that indicates fraudulent behavior.

A smart brand will look closely at the ratio of clicks to actual conversions to uncover anything that indicates fraudulent behavior. Click To Tweet

It’s smart business for a brand to monitor its partnership program and raise an eyebrow at such a huge jump in referrals. But if there is no clear line of communication between brand and partner, it’s likely to create more suspicion. The key, of course, is for the partner to maintain direct communication with the brand partner, so that they can openly discuss any anomalies and avoid in-depth investigations into their performance.

Be aware of abnormalities

Beyond the simple task of communication, the key step here is for all referral partners to be aware of their baseline traffic so that they can spot behaviors that don’t match their normal performance. In the example described above, the partner may have simply experienced the windfall as a result of sudden, unexpected stay-at-home orders and a great offer. But if their surge isn’t lining up with their normal traffic numbers, it looks suspect.

So as a partner, what can you do to avoid accusations of fraud? By understanding your baseline of traffic, you can quickly spot the anomalies. If you are coming by these new referrals honestly, you need to be proactive in explaining the sudden surge to the brand partner. Explain where the traffic is coming from and, if possible, share what you’re doing to ensure that your referrals are free from fraud.

Assess performance

Beyond your traffic baseline, the question you want to pose to your brand partners is “where do I stand relative to my competition?”

Different merchant partners will have different expectations for traffic and conversions based on their vertical. The streaming service in the case study above will have different performance expectations than a clothing brand, for example. So while you’re actively monitoring your traffic and performance, it’s helpful to understand how you compare.

The goal is to better understand whether you’re meeting expectations, or possibly even going beyond them. You should always be looking to deliver traffic to your brand partners, but you want to best understand if you are giving the brands the desired outcome, or falling short. This can be difficult to do for a merchant partner juggling dozens of direct merchant partnerships; fortunately, the Partnership Cloud Elite License offers a centralized console to gain transparency and orchestrate programs across all their merchant partnerships 

This information helps in a number of ways:

  • First and foremost, it assesses performance, helping you understand what adjustments might drive more traffic, or why your traffic is being seen as suspicious. 
  • It provides vital insight into margin, and how much profit you as a partner are generating by participating in the brand’s program. 
  • Finally, it can be used in negotiations in the future because it provides even more detail about the value that your site is providing to the end brand.

Better outcomes for all

When brand and partner are aligned and engaging in a constant string of communication, it produces a better outcome for all involved. A constant exchange of information between referral site and brand partner allows for tweaks to the strategy that will help the campaign deliver what the brand expects.

Larger referral partners certainly have an easier time achieving this two-way communication, but that doesn’t mean that smaller partners can’t have it. No matter your size, proactively reach out to your brand partners or to the service you are working with, like Impact, to explain traffic anomalies, discuss the next steps, and get a better handle on brand expectations and benchmarks. 

Similarly, you can reach out to merchant brands as well. It’s important to engage with all of your partners — big and small. Set-it-and-forget-it is never a good idea, and tools like the Partnership Cloud and Mediarails can help scale communications through automation. The more you communicate and get ahead of potential issues, the better your partnership will be. Taking the time to understand traffic, performance, and benchmarks will only serve to make the communication itself stronger.

Want more tips on handling anomalies? Contact a growth technologist at and we’ll provide solid ideas and solutions. 

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